How can we prepare more in a world that is always responding? This question is particularly daunting when you work in disaster philanthropy. There’s an intense amount of pressure when disasters happen. It comes from many places and spaces, whether from stakeholders, volunteer organizations, donors or the media. It often feels like the requests for guidance demand an immediate and detailed answer. Unfortunately, sometimes, there is no good quick answer.

And sometimes, immediacy isn’t a good thing. Ask our vice president, Regine Webster, and she’ll quickly remind you that 90 percent of giving occurs in the first 90 days after a disaster. Most of the funding supports immediate relief efforts. Little thought is given to supporting other disaster phases – like recovery and preparedness. Don’t get me wrong; it is admirable to want to respond immediately after a disaster strikes. And it is natural to act quickly because other people are reacting too. This phenomenon is often called the “bandwagon effect,” which can be caused by psychological, social and economic factors.

At CDP, we see this all the time. When a disaster makes headlines, everyone wants to talk about it immediately and earn the attention and support of as many donors as possible. Because those first five days after a disaster are critical in philanthropy, but this urgency tremendously impacts the mental health of those who work in disasters. The often unpredictable yet seemingly routine nature of disasters makes it difficult for those of us working in disaster philanthropy to find respite. And the danger of burnout is real.

If I were to create a mental health first aid kit for people in disaster philanthropy, I would include the following tips:

  • Take time to talk about how this work impacts our mental health and the mental health of those we serve.
  • Explore what relaxation tools, like affirmations, listening to music, practicing meditation or mindfulness, reading, exercise, doing something creative like painting or cooking, etc., work for you and utilize them daily.
  • Counseling, group therapy or support groups are great ways to cope with situations that make you feel particularly stressed or anxious.
  • Even one day off can make a significant impact on a person’s mental health.
  • Set clear boundaries between work and home.
  • Regularly take the emotional temperature of those at work and at home.

Read the full article about the mental health consequences of disaster relief work by Sonja Pagniano at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.